Departmental Distinction

Religion Department Distinction

Departmental distinction is awarded to students with a major in religion who have demonstrated their solid foundation in the study of religion and who have demonstrated further their ability to produce independently work of the highest scholarly or artistic standard. Achievement of the minimum grade points of 3.0 overall and normally of 3.5 in religion is taken as evidence that students have completed the first component of departmental distinction. The second component of distinction consists of a major, substantive project or paper prepared with the direction of a faculty member in the department of religion. It should either confirm or improve the student’s record in course work by demonstrating the quality of the student’s skill as a researcher, as an interpreter of the ideas of others, and as a thinker.

A project or paper prepared for class or IR must be revised prior to submission as part of an application for distinction. If a paper is submitted it should be of significant length; 7,500 to 10,000 words in length. The paper should be presented in a uniform format according to a standard such as Turabian’s Manual for Writers. Length and format of other sorts of projects should be discussed in the fall with both the advisor and the Distinction Project Coordinator.

Evaluation of applications for distinction concentrates on the paper or project with the assumption that the minimum grade point demonstrates a solid foundation. The readers committee for evaluation of the project is selected by the Distinction Project Coordinator in consultation with the Department Chair. Normally the readers committee consists of three persons: the student’s advisor for the project, a faculty member who has some knowledge of the topic, and a third faculty member whose major field is different from that of the project. In addition, as soon as the readers have been appointed copies of the paper are made available to interested members of the department.

1. A major, IR or department seminar paper/project, appropriately revised under the guidance of the project advisor;

2. A major paper/project done for a department course and appropriately revised under the guidance of the project advisor;

3. An independent project or paper for which no formal Religion credit is given (e.g., a project done in an international program); such a project or paper must still be guided by an advisor from the department.

4. Projects other than research papers are possible, with a contract specifying the work to be completed and the criteria of evaluation.

Advice for Students Considering Distinction in Religion

The distinction project offers an excellent way to round out one’s study of religion, and can be one of the most enriching and rewarding experiences of an undergraduate career; it can also prove excellent preparation for those considering graduate studies. Undertaking a distinction project gives undergraduates the opportunity to further develop research and writing skills by completing a polished scholarly paper. Other kinds of project are also possible, with a contract specifying the work to be completed and the criteria of evaluation. There are a variety of ways in which students and faculty can work together to complete a successful distinction project. The department recommends that students consider the following advice:

i) Good discernment and careful planning are often essential to well-accomplished research projects. The department recommends that students begin to consider possible distinction projects in their junior year. Though distinction projects more typically evolve out of papers students have completed for departmental seminars, this is not always the case. Papers completed in any departmental course can in fact form the basis of a distinction project, and an IR (independent research) can provide a particularly good foundation for a non-seminar based distinction project.

ii) A faculty member with whom a student has worked in the past and with whom he or she has rapport makes a good choice for a distinction project advisor. Occasionally the student’s research project may extend beyond the advisor’s immediate areas of expertise. In such cases the department recommends that the advisor and student consider additional faculty in the department as resources for consultation about the distinction project at hand.

iii) Distinction projects are evaluated according to the author’s demonstrated facility as a researcher, as an interpreter of the ideas of others, and as a thinker, and according to standard writing and documentation procedures. It is recommended that early on in the distinction process students and their advisors discuss research methodology and documentation procedures, as well as taking a look at the distinction evaluation form, so that departmental standards with regard to the content and the final presentation of distinction papers are clear.

iv) The department recommends that the advisor and student set up a specific and regular schedule for the completion and submission of work. This may involve weekly or bi-weekly meetings to read and discuss on-going work; contact by Email; or alternative mutually agreeable arrangements that make it possible for the advisor to provide constructive feedback to written work on a regular basis.

v) Length guidelines for distinction papers are from 7, 500 to 10, 000 words.
To ensure the advisor has time to read and respond to a first draft of the student’s project in its entirety prior to the deadline, the department highly recommends that students submit a draft of the whole to the advisor by the end of Interim.